A technically perfect photograph can turn out to be a boring, uninteresting image.  That is not to say the image should be flawed to be great.  But, even flawed images can be intriguing and cause the observer to stop and think.  A truly great photo will invoke several different emotions and tell a story as the eyes wander in and out of each level in the photograph.

Every single photo I have ever taken is flawed in some aspect.  The key to improving is learning from those flaws and making changes in future situations that will hopefully result in a better photo.  I will often return to a site a dozen times or more to try and capture an image I am happy with, and still not succeed.  Sometimes, the session produces images I think are better than the previous session, and other times, it seems like a wasted trip.  In reality, even failed sessions are productive, as I learn some techniques that do not work.

There are entire studies devoted to composition.  It involves every aspect of photography and all the infinitely intertwined interactions that go on between the camera, the photographer, and the scene.

It is not the purpose of this section to provide a comprehensive review of composition, as that is something slowly acquired through trial and error.  This section's purpose is to get us started in thinking about what goes into each photograph.  More importantly, the goal is to keep composition in mind each time we press that shutter release.


Rule of Thirds

Which photo is more interesting?

Ask this to a group of people, and some will say the left one, but a majority will like the right one better.  Why is this?  Both images come from exactly the same photo.  One is simply cropped differently than the other.

In the left photo, the subject is in the dead center.  There is a reason it is called the dead center.  Objects placed in this position tend to appear static and uninteresting.  The camera is not a rifle, and we are not out for target practice.  We want to create a photo which is interesting and moves the viewer.  Spare the poor hermit and move him to a better location.

If we divide the frame into thirds and place the subject near one of these lines, the result is a much more pleasing composition.  The subject does not necessarily have to be at the intersection, and we do not need to whip out our measuring tape, but approximate placement along these lines will generally improve the overall composition of the photograph.

This rule is the most commonly taught rule, as it results in the largest improvement in a photo's overall composition.


Divine Proportions

The Golden Spiral
Leonard Fibonacci noted that in a sequence of numbers starting with, 1, 1 the sum of the last two numbers approaches the golden ratio:

1+1=2, 2+1=3....

The resulting sequence:  1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55...

Move the mouse cursor over the image to the left to see the underlying golden rectangles.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55...  A rectangle with sides in a 1:1 ratio is a perfect square.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55...  The second rectangle in the Fibonacci sequence is in a 1:2 ratio - two squares side-by-side.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55...  The ratio of the next numbers in the series, 2:3, should be familiar.  It is the aspect ratio used by 35mm cameras.  A print size of 4x6" is simply a multiple of this 2:3 ratio.

Spira Mirabilis:  Arranging these rectangles in a spiral pattern creates an equiangular spiral - the radial angle increases geometrically, but the polar angle increases arithmetically.  This pattern is seen commonly throughout nature, not only in its likeness to a nautilus shell, but also in snails, flora, and even the human embryo.  It is often seen in man-made structures and works of art as well.  Photographers refer to this as the "Golden Spiral."

The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is a derivative of the Golden Spiral discussed above.  Its vertices are the midpoints of the sides of the Golden Rectangle.

Placing diagonals along these lines can make an otherwise static subject appear more dynamic.